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4 ways to get an Arizona university degree for less money

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Arizona university students already pay many tens of thousands of dollars to get their degrees. But to graduate, they have to fork over even more money.
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Studying on the beach could save you money.

And that’s just one way Arizona students can get a cheaper degree at the three state universities.

College costs and debt burdens continue to rise across the country and in Arizona. 

On average, undergraduates who took out loans to attend the three state universities had between $23,000 and $25,000 in debt upon graduation, according to 2016-17 numbers from the Arizona Board of Regents.

There are the obvious ways to save: Live at home with your family, get a work-study job, win a bunch of scholarships.

But then there are the not-so-obvious ones.

Here are four ways to save money while attending Arizona State University, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.

1. Don’t go to the main campuses

Although people generally think of the main campuses in Flagstaff, Tempe and Tucson when they consider attending the three universities, the schools have numerous campuses in more rural parts of the state.

The non-main campus options are routinely cheaper than going to the large urban centers. In some cases, cost of living and housing may also cost less than in Flagstaff, Tempe and Tucson.

The campus offshoots typically offer fewer degree programs, though. 

UA South in Sierra Vista will cost about $8,500 per semester next fall, while UA in Tucson will cost $11,078.

ASU’s Polytechnic campus offers freshmen and sophomores a 10 percent discount on tuition.

The Lake Havasu offshoot of ASU costs $6,904 for resident undergraduate tuition and fees for the 2017-18 school year, compared with $10,792 at the Tempe campus.

Abbie Anderson, a senior communication student at ASU at Lake Havasu, said the Tempe campus was overwhelming to her, as someone coming from a small town in Illinois.

Havasu is a lot cheaper — she will save at least $30,000 on her education by the time she graduates, she estimated.

And then there are the non-classroom perks: Anderson said she spends all her free time at the lake. She even goes with friends to the beach and writes papers on a laptop, she said.

“That’s like our little getaway,” Anderson said.

ASU also has agreements with three rural colleges — Eastern Arizona College, Arizona Western College and Central Arizona College — that allow students to complete certain bachelor’s degrees at their community colleges and pay reduced tuition.

NAU’s campus in Yuma is slightly cheaper than the Flagstaff campus. Next school year, resident undergraduates in Flagstaff will pay $10,023 in tuition and fees, while NAU-Yuma students will pay $10,970.

2. Stay online

The schools all offer online programs, which allow students to pay per credit instead of an overall rate like on-campus students. That means a typical online student usually pays less than their on-campus counterpart.

And there are some options outside the standard online classes.

NAU’s Personalized Learning program allows students in some degree programs to take classes faster while paying a flat-rate fee for six months of access to an online program.

Students in bachelor programs for computer information technology, liberal arts, management, small business administration and nursing can use the program. There are also master’s programs in computer information technology and nursing.

All of the programs except nursing cost $3,000 for a six-month subscription, NAU spokeswoman Kimberly Ott said. The nursing options costs $3,750 for six months. Students can take as many classes as they want during that time.

At ASU, the Global Freshmen Academy allows students to pick from 14 freshmen-level classes. They pay an initial $49 fee and can then choose to pay for credits if they pass classes using the program. It typically costs between $500 to $700 for one credit hour for online classes at ASU.

The Global Freshmen Academy classes include standard general education requirements like English 101 and astronomy.

Tsaja Oder, a senior business administration major at UA, is studying all online now while she trains for the 2020 Olympics in her native Slovenia. 

She studied at UA in Tucson for a couple years and received an athletic scholarship for swimming. But she returned to Slovenia to train and be with her family, meaning her education turned to the internet. 

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Higher education reporter Anne Ryman of The Arizona Republic gives five tips to find free money for college. Hannah Gaber/azcentral.com

She could have gone to a Slovenian university for free, but she said having a degree from a high-ranked school like UA means something to her. Her family can afford the online course fees. 

Plus, she can swim and study at the same time, which has always been her goal.

“That’s basically my life now — swimming, studying, sleeping, eating,” Oder said. 

UA Online also has some online courses they offer for free to online students. 

There’s a class offered by UA’s famous Biosphere 2 called “Biosphere 2 Science for the Future of the Planet.” 

3. Go to community college for as long as possible

All three schools work with local community colleges to help students stay in community college classes, which are much cheaper, as long as they can.

At NAU, some programs allow students to take 90 credits at community college, leaving just 30 credits needed to earn a degree at the university.

Traditionally, community college students can transfer only up to 64 credits from a community college to NAU.

The 90-30 plans are only open to certain degree programs at NAU, though. They include dental hygiene, humanities, nursing, public administration, health sciences and emergency management, among others.

Students from a dozen of the state’s community colleges can join UA Bridge, a program that helps transfer students enter UA.

Bridge students can get $2,000 scholarships that can be renewed annually if they meet certain GPA and credit requirements. They apply to Bridge while in community college and are then guaranteed UA admission for most degrees.

For nursing students, ASU and the Maricopa Community Colleges have a program to help complete degrees cheaper.

Nursing students at the community colleges can take ASU Online classes at the same time. Once they have an associate’s degree, they have just one semester of classes to take at ASU to get a bachelor’s degree.

The online classes are also cheaper per credit than in-person rates.

4. Get on the fast track

Another option is jumping into a fast-track degree program. Less time in school usually means less money paid for tuition and campus housing.

UA has 50 options that allow students to get a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years.

The programs include art history, East Asian studies, engineering, public health, special education, journalism, history and French, among many others.

At ASU, there are 17 fast-track degree programs that let students finish school in as little as two and a half years.

These include programs in business, health sciences, criminology, English, communication and psychology.

Frederick Corey, ASU’s Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, said about 1,000 students per year complete their degrees in three years.

A student could save more than $10,000 on tuition and fees by not attending a fourth year.

Although the school has 17 programs set up for the fast track, many other degrees can be completed in three years with the help of a college adviser, Corey said.

Students can start planning for a three-year completion in high school by taking advantage of Advanced Placement, dual enrollment classes and the College Level Examination Program, all of which can give students college credit for work in high school, he said.

Corey said three things inspire students to fast-track their degrees: getting a jump on graduate studies, completing a double major or saving money.

The financial advantage comes on two fronts, he said. Students save money by not paying for a fourth year of tuition, and they’re making money by working during that year instead, he said.

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